Coaching Case Study: Would you take this assignment?

Following is a real-life examples of a coaching assignments that a CEC member has recently been invited to take on. Please give some thought to whether you would take this assignment, and under what conditions.

Case One: A large medical center is having issues with their Chief Medical Officer. Turnover among his staff is extremely high, and three people have resigned in the past few months. Worse, he has a possible sexual harrassment case pending from a colleague. You are being asked by the COO and CEO to coach this physician executive so that he acts appropriately and also improves his ability to engage and mobilize employees.

Discussion: One might want to run the other direction on a case like this. How can a coach win with a client this difficult? However, in speaking with the coach in question – an individual with significant experience working with leaders in healthcare organizations – we concluded that this could be an acceptable assignment, but only with conditions. Conditions to discuss include:

1. Building into the scope time to work with the CEO and COO and make sure that they are closely involved in this case. Are they sure that they want this medical director to continue in the role? If not, what is the plan to find a replacement? Alternatively, if there are political or other reasons to give the medical director a final chance, then the CEO and COO must set the proper tone with the medical director about expectations going forward, and consequences if he doesn't improve immediately. A coach can't do dirty work for the executive team, and so involvement by the CEO and COO to whom this person reports is important. Also, the CEO and COO have set a tone in the organization that has allowed this behavior to fester, and other examples or poor leadership might also be tolerated. By working with the CEO and COO, the coach can get at what might be the organizational root cause of a larger issue.

2. Having an initial discussion with the medical director to make sure he understands the severity of the issues and that he is willing to change and be coached. The CEO and COO need to set this up and make sure that the medical director is ready. The coach should not be expected to walk into the medical director's office and suddenly be welcomed with open arms.

3. Setting specific goals for performance improvement up front, so that there is no doubt about whether progress is made or not.

4. Finally, one of the least desirable coaching engagements is being a "coach of last resort." That's what executive coaching used to be all about, and now — thankfully — it has evolved to be a leadership development tool. The coach could use this assignment as a bargaining chip to also work with other members of the leadership team, especially those who are performing well and are open to improving aspects of their leadership.

The above points can help to take a negative case and broaden it into a potentially ongoing relationship with the leadership team.

What about you? Would you run from this assignment, which is an acceptable response, or would you add any conditions in order to accept the challenge?

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